Again we woke up to a cloud covered sky. For the first four days the Kalahari set us a very stern test, happy that we respected her she then decided to be kind to us. If you respect the Kalahari she will look after you; if you don’t she will destroy you.
There was a staggered start with the first small group going off at 5am and further small groups setting off at 30 minute or 15 minute intervals. This is designed to facilitate most people arriving at the finish in a very short space of time. The aim is to have everyone finished before the overall winner arrives. It didn’t work this time, either we were too slow, or Hylton was too fast.
The staggered start, based roughly on overall times in the first 6 days, and the varying states of peoples injuries, fatigue and motivation mean that there is a lot of catching people up and being caught up. There are words of encouragement, good banter and some hugs. Harry told me earlier in the week that he uses his experiences in the army to get him through. He must have been very happy to have found a little group on the last day that he could drill. They were happily jogging along with Harry barking out Left, Right, Left ……(Harry used to be a Sargent Major) Although we have all be on our own personal paths to complete the challenge of the Kalahari Augrabies Exteme Marathon and been in some very dark and lonely places it is a shared experience. People are happy to be finishing but also happy that their KAEM friends, old and new, are finishing. I was particularly pleased that Yves was completing the event on his fourth attempt. He had struggled earlier and I was worried that it would be a repeat of his previous attempts. That he should finish in what I think was the hardest year I have known bears huge testament to his determination and pure grit.
The final few kilometres are very special, although for some it is also quite daunting; the climb up ‘Moon Rock, with the panoramic views from the top. For those with blisters the descent is the hardest and is very painful. Then it is a winding path through the reed beds and trees before emerging onto the dirt road for the final kilometre to the finish line where everyone is greeted like a winner. The atmosphere is electric with lots of handshakes, congratulations and hugs. As more and more people arrive the buzz builds. It is not long before the pool fills with people eager to cool off and perhaps also to counter the effects of all the beer they have drunk.
Last to finish was Lorraine. All the runners and crew lined the finish funnel to welcome her home with cheers and Mexican waves. For some of us there were also tears of joy. A chair was brought to the finish line for her to sit in while she had a cold drink and she was then carried in it to a shady area for her to start recovering from what she described as the best week of her life. The photos of the bottom of her feet, and there are many, are most definitely x-rated. How she managed to finish considering the pain each step must have given her is beyond my comprehension.
Later I sat chatting to Nadia, one of the race organisers, and mentioned a KAEM friend who died a few years ago. I broke down in floods of tears so Nadia quietly held my hand until I felt better. This reminded me of an incident several years ago. I was running KAEM for the first time after my wife left me. I hit a tough patch and felt absolutely desolate because I no longer had her support to call upon. Nadia appeared out of nowhere held my hand and walked with me to the finish that day. I am not the only one to receive that treatment. Nadia cares deeply about people and will do all she can to help. We call her Mother Hen. Estienne is not so touchy feely but he too looks after his runners. He wants it to be a tough challenge, but he also wants everyone to have a good chance of finishing. He monitors what is going on and acts accordingly. For example, if it is very hot and people are getting through their water he will set up a water point before the next checkpoint or send crew out to check people are okay and top their bottles up. This is what makes the Kalahari Augrabies Exteme Marathon so special everyone involved in the event is totally committed to the welfare and success of the runners. Then the Kalahari desert adds her magic on top of that.
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